Three horses dead, one man injured, one-day suspension for chuckwagon great
A horrendous chuckwagon accident at the Calgary Stampede race track Saturday resulted in the death of three horses and the hospitalization of a driver. Officials blamed 10-time champion Kelly Sutherland for the accident and suspended him for one day. It was an important day - the chuckwagon finals - but many feel the penalty was far too lenient.
blamed for crash
for final day; third horse dies
SLADE, JOHN DOWN AND DEBORAH TETLEY
A day after the devastating
chuckwagon crash that killed three horses and left driver Tyler Helmig in
hospital with career-threatening injuries, 10-time champion Kelly Sutherland
was pinned with the blame and suspended for Sunday’s final day of the Rangeland
“After review, our assessment
was that coming out of the first turn, Kelly drove his team too aggressively
towards the rail — too aggressively towards Ray Mitsuing’s team,” Calgary
Exhibition and Stampede senior manager Lindsey Galloway said at a news
conference on Sunday.
“That resulted in Ray moving
towards Gary Gorst’s team, resulting in the incident that led to the death of
(Gorst’s) horses and the accident and injury to Tyler.
“This sends a strong signal to
everybody involved that we will not tolerate anything that compromises the
safety of animals and competitors.”
Galloway added that a 25-second interference
penalty assessed to Mitsuing immediately after the race would remain.
“We have determined the penalty
by the judges will stand, as a fair reflection of the incident and Ray’s
involvement in it,” Galloway said.
The Stampede official said
Sutherland understood the decision, but the veteran driver would not come out
of his mobile home to discuss the suspension.
Earlier in the day, he was not
accepting any blame for the crash.
“The penalties were handed out
to the driver that was deemed to be at fault,” Sutherland said. “What more can
I sway? I’m not at fault.”
Mitsuing, of Loon
Lake, Sask., and Gorst, of Meadow
Lake, Sask. — close friends —
were clearly unhappy with what they deemed to be a lenient sentence against
“It’s a joke. A one-day
suspension is a slap in the face to Gary
— to me,” said Gorst, who lost all but one of his best fourhorse unit and,
despite offers from a half-dozen other drivers to lend him horses, opted to go
with his second unit on the final day of the event.
“They said it was his fault but
the penalty stays on Ray, on the record. And for me, these were the best horses
I ever had. It took me nine years to get where I got to and one guy’s
(Sutherland’s) decision knocked me right out of it. It was all of my young, top
stock. It’s hard on our whole family and horses. We live with them every day.
They’re babies to me.”
Mitsuing was livid with
Sutherland and the Stampede’s ruling.
“I’m not happy, due to the fact
they only suspended him for one day at the race track, after what he did!” said
“It’s clearly proven that they
found him guilty.”
Both reinsmen said Sutherland
had talked about doing whatever he had to do to move up into the final four and
a shot at the $100,000 top prize.
“Ya, I believe that’s coming
from him. I was a threat to keep him out,” said Gorst. “He was talking about it
before. I’d rather take a two-second penalty against Ray, as the day before,
than have this happen.”
Mitsuing went further, even
suggesting that Sutherland’s comments in a television interview earlier in the
day of the crash was a warning and what happened on the track warranted a
“He said, ‘I’m gonna squeeze
those guys,’ ” said Mitsuing. “He was going to accomplish what he had to do.
“The Calgary Stampede should
step up to the plate and not only penalize the man but suspend him forever from
wagon racing at the Calgary Stampede.”
It was the second year in a row
that Mitsuing has been involved in a controversy.
Last year, two of his horses
were killed when Todd Baptiste clipped his rig on the same first turn, not much
more than 10 metres from the scene of the latest mishap. Baptiste was fined and
suspended for his actions, said Mitsuing.
Helmig, 45, of Leduc,
meanwhile, remains in hospital, recovering from a broken hip and arm injuries
when he was thrown from his wagon, his wife Cindy said on Sunday.
said the Stampede was extremely pleased that his injury was not
life-threatening and wished him a speedy recovery. He also expressed sympathy
to Gorst and his family on the loss of his horses.
Stampede veterinarian Chris
Belan of Moore and Company Vet Clinic in Balzac, who attended to Gorst’s horses
after the crash, said one horse died on the track and two others had to be
humanely euthanized back in the barn.
He also noted they were not the
first animal fatalities at this year’s Stampede. Darcy Flad lost a horse early
in the 10-day event, when it had to be euthanized after it injured its leg in
the infield. Belan said the horse finished the race.
“Once they start, if it’s not
catastrophic, you can’t pull them up,” he said. “It was not apparent how
serious it was until the race was over.”
He said driver Ryan Priest had
a horse that went down on Tuesday when it got caught up in equipment, but it
was later OK.
The vet also noted the rodeo
ran incident free through 10 days, other than some cuts and scrapes.
Meanwhile, animal rights
activists used Saturday’s incident to bolster their call for a ban on rodeo and
chuckwagon events at the Stampede.
As nearly a dozen protesters
gathered outside the grounds waving placards reading “buck the rodeo” and “how
many animals have to die this year?” the group’s spokesman said Calgarians
should be outraged by the deaths.
“This really drives home the
point that these events are malicious and completely unnecessary,” said Ken
Erickson, of the Calgary Animal Rights Coalition.
“These events are not safe for
the animals and we witness it year after year as animals keep dying at the
rodeo and in the chucks.”